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6-year-old Danielle was in a very bad mood one Sunday afternoon…
The angry frown on her otherwise smiling just wouldn’t go away—so her mother finally asked, “Is something bothering you?”
“Yes!” Danielle exclaimed. “I’m mad at church!”
“Somebody NAILED Jesus to the cross—and he died!” she cried. “Who would do such a thing?”
Her mother was quite stunned by her daughter’s question—and rightfully so. Danielle’s has a very human response to the horror of the crucifixion event. Who would do such a thing?
On one hand, it’s easy to point out the villains: there’s the chief priests, the scribes, the elders, and all the Jewish leaders who’ve opposed Jesus throughout his entire ministry. We blame Pontius Pilate every week when we recite the creeds. These are powerful men who saw Jesus as a direct threat to their power, privilege, and prestige.
There’s the Roman soldiers and temple guards who earned a decent living doing the dirty work for the Romans and the Jewish leaders. They make sport of their brutality, casting lots to divide up Jesus’ clothing.
Let’s not forget Judas Iscariot, the betrayer.
The crowds who threw out palm branches for Jesus and gave him the hero’s welcome are now rioting Pilate for his death. Some got caught up in the “mob mentality.” Many knew Jesus was an innocent man—but did nothing. Others saw his crucifixion as a victory of righteousness and justice.
Every disciple who deserted Jesus, including Peter who denied him three times.
These were all common folk, just like you and me. All of us would love to believe that we would have stood beside Jesus to the very end, even dying with him. But the truth is—that’s not what sinners do. Sinners reject God.
The sin inside of every human heart comes to its full expression on the cross. We’d love to shift the blame to evil tyrants and corrupt political, social, economic, and religious systems. But in the end, those systems are made up of people: people with hard hearts towards what was right by them; people with weak hearts too scared, to take a stand for what was right; people with cold hearts who just didn’t care.
In our time, we see the cruelty of the cross visited upon other people—particularly those at the margins of society. A third of the food produced in this country goes to waste, while one in five children goes hungry. We see it in the widening gap between the “haves” and “have-nots.” We see it in refugees who flee war and violence, but no one takes them in. I could go on forever…
Even then, it’s not just power and privilege corrupts people into sin. Fear and powerlessness breed brutal sin, too.
But what is greater than the cruelty of sin is the love of God. It’s not unreasonable to expect God to reign down fire and brimstone over all of Judea and maybe even the whole Roman Empire for what they did to Jesus. You’d expect this to be the end of God’s relationship with humanity. But no—instead, the temple curtain is torn in two. God’s holiness breaks out of the holy of holies to heal and deliver a sinful world from sin and death. That day, God began reclaiming the lives of evil tyrants and ordinary scoundrels. God’s love will now be born in live in ordinary human beings.
Repentance is what happens when the human love for sin is met with the love of God in Jesus Christ. Power, privilege, and prestige lose their luster. So do wealth and possessions…
Christ himself becomes our greatest treasure that we celebrate around word and Sacrament. He becomes the treasure that comes alive in relationships where love is given and received; where human needs are met; where mercy and forgiveness triumph over status and competition.
As awful as things are in the world and as immense the challenges have become, the holiness of God lives right here in our midst. We take up our crosses and lay our treasures down at the feet of Jesus for the neighbors who need them. And even, God forbid, we lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, resurrection will be God’s final answer.
The cruelty of humankind and all the forces of evil cannot hold back God’s will being done on earth as in heaven.
So we begin the final journeys with Jesus to his cross. As terrible and humiliating it is to be brought face-to-face with the depth of our sin, God’s love is deeper—and wider. The horror of the cross becomes the beauty of who our God is. The crucified Jesus is God’s gracious and merciful response to all that is evil and broken in the world—so that all the world may join the centurion in saying and believing, “he is God’s Son.”